Let’s say that you didn’t exactly hit it out of the park with your resolutions this year. Let’s say that you’re getting ready to step up to the plate again. Let’s say that you’re ready to start over and really make this year a year of action. Whatever action you plan to take first, it’s always best to plan accordingly and prepare for the journey ahead. After all, it’s not an easy trek. Maintaining good habits and routines over the course of twelve days — let alone twelve months — is a challenge.
I take the time to build up three things to start a year of action during the month of January so that I can really take the twelve months to come to new heights. Rest assured, you can take these things and apply them at any time of the year. But there’s no time like the present, so why not explore one of them now and see where it leads you?
1. Connect Better With Your Actions
The first thing I do is find ways to connect better with my actions. This tactic works for actions that I know I really need to work on but struggle with and task that I need to work on but will take a tremendous amount of effort to complete, no matter how driven I am to achieve them.
One of the ways I connect better with my actions is through the use of meaningful contexts and tags. I’ve written about my use of contexts before, and by keeping them at a minimum I’m able to give them more focus and attention. You need to find variables that will add value to your actions so that they hold more meaning for you. Doing that will put you in a far better position to accomplish them.
I struggle with keeping up the habit of getting enough exercise. I’ve tried attaching energy levels to the task and other tricks like scheduling the time to complete the task, but that has never been enough. This time around, however, I’ve scheduled the time to exercise and found a program that speaks to my productivityist side. I found that through a program called Focus T25. The 25 minute program syncs up nicely with The Pomodoro Technique, which is a technique I use to push through tasks that I’m not necessarily fond of doing but know that I need to do.2 The timing works for me. The technique works for me. As a result, the exercise program has a better chance of sticking for me.
The single best way I’ve found to make your actions seem more critical to you is to make them more meaningful to you. By using contexts and looking inward, you’ll create a better awareness for yourself. And that will lead to a better for yourself too.
2. Turn Things Down So You Can Turn Things Up
Saying no isn’t easy, especially when you feel like you have a clean slate and a fresh timetable that is ripe for new opportunities to be explored. But things happen quickly as the days and weeks go by, and when you don’t look at the big picture and assess things in a way that will put you in a position to achieve better results — as opposed to more results — then you’re doing your work and your life a disservice. That’s why you need to get better at turning things down.
My friend Patrick Rhone offered an incredibly wise quote in his book enough:
“Saying no is saying yes to other things.”
He’s absolutely right. But we all struggle with this. We want to please others. The problem is that when you take on too many things, you can turn the dial up on them all. The quality of every aspect of your life will suffer because you’ve simply taken on too much.
So evaluate your requests more effectively going forward. Don’t be afraid to turn things down because doing so will allow you to turn things up. Quality over quantity is the goal here, and when you turn things down they’re no longer something you need to take stock of and can focus on the stock you’ve agreed to carry.1
3. Be Selective With Your Attention
This goes beyond agreeing to take on certain actions, although this one can inform what actions you will and won’t agree to handle. Being selective with your attention means that you decide what to work on and when to work on it, as well as what not to work on at certain times.
Anytime you work on something, you’re clearly giving it attention. The question is, however, how much attention are you giving it? If you’re not focused as much as possible — ideally 100% — on the task at hand, then something else has your attention. That’s not ideal. Some things can’t be turned off and might steal your attention form time to time, but others most definitely can be ignored. Email notifications, Facebook updates, and a ringing telephone are all things you can either give attention to or leave alone if you choose. Ultimately, attention boils down to choice. The choices can be made simpler by advanced setup or can be made in the moment.
My Three Words help me with my choices, as they inform me as to what is most important to me on the whole every time I refer to them. Those words were chosen in advance, leading me to make faster and better choices going forward. My heavy-lifting and light-lifting scheduling tactic also makes choosing what to give attention to far easier, nearly to the point of automation. My Idea Calendar (as featured in TimeCrafting) guides my choices as well, allowing me to get unstuck when I’m not sure what to work on because there’s an overarching theme to many of my months.
A year of action is closer to being realized — when you use as many of the above three ways as starting points as you possibly can. Better still, if you take all three ways and keep them at top of mind throughout the year, you can go beyond just having a year of action…you can have a life of action.
And that’s definitely a life worth living.
Photo credit: alifarid via SXC.HU
1 Funnily enough, this is what Costco does and it works for them. Having worked there for over a decade I can attest to it, although the company’s reputation speaks for itself.
2 I don’t use The Pomodoro Technique for much else, as it poses a problem for me in most areas.